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Dr Charmaine Saunders guides us through the wondrous
world of dream language ...

The world of dreams is a magical place, full of mystery, drama and amazement. In dreams, we can find the perfect lover, speak multiple languages, fly, fall, meet with dead loved ones, perform feats requiring enormous strength, rescue and be rescued, die and rise again. There are no limits, no boundaries, physical or otherwise, and certainly nothing there is impossible. Why then do so many people shun their dreams, either denying they have any or refusing to see them as important and significant to life? Possibly it's because not all dreamers are recallers, that is to say, we all dream several times every night but many wake with very faint or no recollection.

Improving recall

Start by reading some books on the importance and meaning of dreams so you have a basic understanding of this important psychological tool. Then think of some specific ways in which remembering dreams might benefit you in your everyday life so you can generate motivation. Always relax prior to sleeping and have a pad and pen right beside you on the bedside cabinet. If you wake during the night and have a dream fresh in your mind, turn the light on and jot down a couple of points to remind you in the morning, for example, dog/ garden/ raining. At first, this will seem intrusive on your sleep patterns, but with time and practice, you won't need to actually wake up to be able to recall dream sequences. In the morning, you'll have a vague or sharp recollection depending on the importance and intensity of the dream. It's often the emotional tone of a dream that most matters so hold onto that and try to connect with it. Say a "prayer" to your dream guide before you sleep that you will connect with your unconscious in the dream world, enjoy the experiences and have clear recollection upon waking.

Dream recall is a skill and, like any other, requires practice and commitment. Yes, it comes more easily and naturally to some people, but we can all do it if we wish. The type of person we are has a lot to do with it. We fall into two general categories - recallers and non-recallers. Recallers tend to be more interested in their inner workings, psychological makeup, motives, feelings and so on. Non-recallers are the opposite - they're more matter-of-fact, straightforward, less open to metaphysical/spiritual interests.

For me, there's a lot of value in remembering the details of dreams because it maximises the benefit of the message/lesson we're meant to be receiving.

If you already are a recaller, work with your dreams to improve understanding and familiarity with the complexity and metaphorical nature of dream language. There are ways to make this pursuit easier and easier. As to not remembering dreams, it's just a matter of a shift in attitude. I will outline some practical techniques to help, but ultimately you have to decide if it's something that is worth pursuing for you personally.

After you wake...
*Keep a dream journal in which you write out your dreams each morning. Some mornings, you will wake with your mind a total blank. Don't worry about it, you probably just slept very deeply.

*If there are any outstanding symbols or sequences, think about those first, but it's more important to take in the overall dream experience, particularly the emotional content. If you feel sad or depressed, don't worry about it; cry or feel down for a while till the memory of the dream wears off.

*Meditate on the possible meanings for a short period before you start getting busy in your day. If the dream is full of "rubbish", let it go, but if you feel the message could be significant, think on it during the day to elicit as much as you can from it.

Have fun with this. Don't take it all too seriously. Dreams help us just by happening. If you want to learn more, by all means try my tips. You'll definitely improve your recall as you go along and also find that your dreams will get clearer and more accessible simply because you have shown your willingness to access your nocturnal communications.

Why do dreams matter?

Dreams are a rich source of information about our subconscious desires, feelings, insecurities, fears and just about anything else that lies beneath the surface of everyday life. When we learn the language of dreams and begin to plumb the depths of their messages, there are huge benefits. They are literally messages from the unconscious. Along with meditation and hypnosis, they are a gateway to our deepest selves, not easily accessible in normal waking life.

They have many benefits to offer including:
* releasing negative emotions
* facing our fears
* communicating with loved ones in spirit
* resolving old conflicts
* understanding our inner motivations, and
* accessing creative inspiration.

There are also many types of dreams:
Digestive dreams These literally digest the day's events, concerns, thoughts, ideas and so on. It's a processing system and, although necessary, this type of dream does not usually contain memorable or important images and messages.

Creative dreams Many famous creative works such as the poem "Kublai Khan" were spawned firstly in the form of a dream. Paul McCartney says that he got the words and tunes for his classic song "Yesterday" through a dream experience. We may not all be lucky enough to come up with a bestselling song or literary idea through our dreams, but I suggest you write down any intuitive messages that come through, original thoughts and insights, business concepts, ideas for inventions, solutions to problems and such-like because this is a helpful and practical area in which to elicit useful information. You could even receive your winning Lotto numbers in a dream!

One of the techniques I recommend to clients dealing with indecision or a difficult decision is to commit the question to the subconscious just prior to sleeping. Often, the answer comes through during the night in a dream or upon waking the next morning.

Anxiety dreams We release anxieties, insecurities, fears, and doubts in our dreams every night regardless of how much we actually remember. If you have a particular concern or worry in your waking life, it might manifest in a dream as a wild animal chasing you, or your trying to climb some insurmountable obstacle. Many common dream experiences are caused by subconscious worries such as when you free-fall or run on the spot.

Nightmares This is a more serious version of an anxiety dream involving fearful events, sometimes violence, ghosts, or danger. It usually represents an actual cause of fear in your waking life, either physical or emotional. There are specific techniques to dispel the gloom of nightmares and also deal with them when they occur.

Recurring dreams A recurring dream, quite often a nightmare, is trying to get a message through to the conscious level without success. The only way to stop it is to take notice of its message and make an actual change in your life. Dream life and waking life are but two sides of the same coin; therefore, as you adjust one, the other alters as well.

Recurring dreams are essentially persistent messages from your subconscious. Just as a child will whine and insistently ask for what it wants you to know, especially if you try to ignore it, so will your dreams keep appearing if you refuse to recognise and handle the important message. It's a given that recurring dream messages are valuable or else they wouldn't keep coming.
As with all dreams, the symbology may not be clear and it could take a long time, even years, to decipher the meaning. Unfortunately, the subconscious will not let up until you do, or until the problem/issue spontaneously corrects itself.

So, how do we firstly understand and, secondly, deal with recurring messages?

If it's very obscure and you can't see what relevance it could have in your life, think laterally, explore the symbols and apply them to any situation in your life at present that you're not happy about. You'll start to make connections if you think about it calmly and as objectively as possible.

Sometimes, recurring dreams offer psychological insight, sometimes, a prediction and at other times, a hidden message. A warning dream could be asking you to be more careful driving or travelling; a hidden message would be the hardest to decipher because it probably relates to a less obvious aspect of life. If you get any of these at any time in your life, don't get irritated or confused. Accept that it's happening for your good and you are receiving a gift from your own inner wisdom. Also, don't be impatient as dream meanings often have to be teased out and don't respond well to being rushed. Ask people for their thoughts, meditate on the dream, especially first thing after waking. See a specialist if it's really bothering you, but don't try to force understanding. Let it come naturally. You may never get a clear explanation, but just by being open to it, you could improve a vital area of your life. And isn't that what it's all about?

Warning dreams These can actually prophesy anything from an accident to a birth to a marriage breakup. Be mindful of taking them too literally, for example, a dream of a death is rarely what it seems and more likely to be predicting the end of an era in your life than a physical death. Some common dream symbols like snakes, rats and sharks are omens of treachery so if you dream of these, especially in recurring dreams, look at the people and situations around you with an appraising eye as there could be warning signs you've missed and that's why your subconscious is signalling you. The cause of the warning dream may not be clear straightaway so just stay extra alert for a while. The dream has given you the awareness of the potential danger; trust that you will know when and if the dream has any basis in fact and you will know to prevent the problem. Of course, remembering your dreams is only the beginning.

Deciphering dreams

Experiment with various dream dictionaries as some are excellent references and some are misleading. When you find one that works for you, check the symbols within your dream to get a general impression of meaning. This is only the beginning as you need to then apply it your own life. For example, if you dream about a shark and the book says that means danger, ask yourself where the potential for danger exists in your life - is it in a physical area or emotionally or to do with work or family?

This type of deeper interpretation takes effort and commitment, but the rewards can be enormous. Once you get a handle on the personal meaning of your dream, think on it for a few minutes before you jump out of bed and start your day. Keep a dream diary and write down as much of your dream detail as you can possibly remember. Don't analyse while you're writing, just let it flow. When you start making connections between your dream experiences and your waking ones, you'll get excited and be even more motivated to work with your subconscious in this way. If you did dream of a shark and then, during the day, you escape a bad fall, you'll start to take dream messages more seriously.

Of course, not all dreams are that specific or prophetic. so never get anxious about a dream, even really scary ones. They're always helpful. Just be aware, be alert and conduct your own research.

Studies into the significance of dreams have unearthed some incredible feats such as dreamers being able to "incubate" their own dreams, make and keep appointments with other dreamers during sleep and face up to nightmare monsters and events by challenging them and ending the dream. The world of dreams is a fascinating place.

So, what do we most dream about and why? We dream our fears, our anxieties, our hopes, our likes and dislikes. Yet the packages these dreams come in can vary from the most mundane activity to the most bizarre, from shopping in your local supermarket to flying over a golden city. The impetus for these nocturnal events will differ from dreamer to dreamer.

Specific dreams we commonly have are these:
Falling - caused by a feeling of being out of control, helpless.
Flying - usually spawned by a desire for freedom.
Running on the spot - literally getting nowhere.
Being chased, often by a wild animal or monster - feeling persecuted by a boss or other authority figure.
Getting lost - again, pretty literal, feeling lost in real-life, confused, aimless, unfocused.
Drowning - overwhelmed by emotion.

If troubled by any of these dreams, particularly persistently upsetting ones, the only "cure" is to deal with the issues presented. Do not let your anxieties, emotions and fears overwhelm you or dominate your life. Face them down and resolve them, speak about them, write them out, cry, scream, laugh, sing, dance - let them know who's in charge. Then your dreams will be pleasant and full of only lovely journeys.

Dreams may all seem to be the same, but they really aren't. They are unique to each dreamer despite the fact that there are common symbols and shared experiences. Some people dream in colour, some always in black and white; some dream of bizarre, outlandish events, some spend their nights doing mundane things such as shopping or washing the car. Most of us dream in a reasonably prosaic way unless something is troubling us, we're not facing up to a subconscious desire/need or we're less than satisfied with our waking lives. Then we can be plagued by recurring dreams we don't understand, exotic dreams we're not in the race to decipher or scared out of our wits by nightmares. Apart from ordinary processing dreams and at the other end of the scale, worrisome adventures, what other ways are there to access subconscious messages during sleep?

Lucid Dreaming
This is a form of dreaming in which we know we're in the dream state. For me, it happens when I'm sleeping and dreaming, but one part of my mind is recording the dream for the morning. It's quite clear and I'm consciously aware I'm doing it. Sometimes I am assessing the dream as I'm having it, for example, "This is a beautiful image" or "This is a positive omen." This particular tool is handy if you're in the middle of a nightmare and you want out- you can literally decide to wake yourself up in order to escape the unpleasant images or events you're witnessing.

Dream Incubation
This is a procedure by which you decide before you go to sleep what you wish to dream about. Those who are lonely without a partner can conjure up a dream lover who is perfect in every way without any human flaws. Someone who loves to travel can visit any number of destinations of their choice without the expense of an airline ticket. You can be whatever you wish in a dream - a movie star, a famous model, a brilliant scientist, slim if you're overweight, glamorous if you're plain, wealthy if you're poor. You decide what you want to be and act it out in your dream - it's a harmless, healing form of fantasy.

Dream Sharing
Would you believe that you can share your dream with another person or even a group of people? Dream scientists have been working with this concept for decades. Sometimes, it happens spontaneously where you have a particular dream then later find out a person you know who was in it had that same dream! It is also possible to manufacture a shared dream, for example, if two loved ones are geographically apart and are missing each other, they can arrange to meet in a particular setting on a set night and with practice, they can do this on a regular basis.

The best part about dreaming is that you can have so much fun with it, experimenting and learning more and more about how it all works. Dreams benefit you regardless of whether you understand them or not, but it's more satisfying to work with them by choice, adding to your subconscious wealth of information.

However you dream and whether or not you value your dreamlife, dreams are your allies and can offer information that's most beneficial to waking life. Never take them too literally because they are symbolic rather than actual and if they have an important message, it'll come through without the need for deep analysis. Many dreams are entertaining; the troubling ones are still to be embraced for their insights. Dreams are all healing. That's the main message to remember.